Five Ways to Help Your Child Do Better in Maths

Maths on Slate

As the new school term starts next week, it will be time for your children to begin to work on the subjects they struggled with in the first tests of the year. For a lot of South African children one of these subjects will unfortunately be maths.

The Mail & Guardian reports that between 2009 and 2013 the number of candidates who wrote mathematics in the final Matric exam declined by 17%, while the number of students who wrote mathematics literacy increased. Furthermore, “the overall number of learners who are achieving an NSC pass with more than 40% in mathematics has been falling over the same period to 17% of the class of 2013″.

This is concerning because Matric-level mathematics is a requirement for many university courses. The South African Institute for Chartered Accountants is among the interested parties who worry that “the current matric pass in Maths and Science is insufficient to meet the current skills shortage the country is facing”.

Here are some tips to help your child do better in maths:


Have a Winning Attitude

Miles Kimball and Noah Smith believe that part of the answer is the right attitude. In an insightful article in Quartz, they argue against the perception that only some people have the ability to be good at maths. “For high school math, inborn talent is just much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence,” they say.

When well-prepared children, whose parents have drilled them on maths from a young age, come to class and do well, the unprepared children assume that the well-prepared ones have natural maths talent, not realising that they have been working hard at it. “Deciding that they ‘just aren’t math people,’ they don’t try hard in future classes, and fall further behind.” Learners have to realise that their intelligence is not predetermined; they can always “greatly change how intelligent they are”. They can make themselves smarter by hard work.

Maths teacher Elizabeth Cleland couldn’t agree more. “I tell all students alike that math requires perseverance and a willingness to take risks and make mistakes. These qualities are much more predictive of mathematical success than innate ability (if such a thing exists),” she writes in The Atlantic. She advises parents not to perpetuate the fallacy of innate maths ability. Parents should also make an effort to help their children with their maths homework.

Karen LoBello of Everyday Life emphasises the importance of parents having a positive attitude about maths. “Avoid phrases such as, ‘I was never good in math either.’ Let him see how you use math at work and at home and point out the way others use math in their careers.” Remember, you’re your child’s first role model!

Baking & Measuring

Talk numbers and set everyday maths problems

Try to work numbers into everyday conversations. In a study published in Developmental Psychology in 2010, researchers found that “frequency of number talk in the children’s homes had a big impact on how well the youngsters understood basic mathematical concepts”.

You could note numbers on signs when you’re driving or use number words when talking about sports, science, history or video games with older children, suggest Annie Murphy Paul. For some excellent ideas on discussing numbers with your children, have a look at Christopher Danielson’s blog Talking Math with Your Kids.

Susan Adcox has a few ideas for setting everyday maths problems for your children (or grandchildren) on For instance, let them help you bake, but don’t give them all the different measuring cups to use, so that they have to work out when double, or half, or a quarter of a measuring cup is needed. When you’re at the shop, let your children help you work out what the groceries will cost. Or when you’re taking a trip, let them work out how many kilometers you’ll travel. Telling time is maths too, so get the kids to work out schedules, allocating a certain amount of time for each activity. Keeping score is another fun way for kids to interact with mathematics. When playing boardgames or card games, encourage you children to keep score in their heads.

Board Game

Turn it into a game

There are many games that can improve children’s maths scores. For Business Insider, Walter Hickey compiled a list of games and activities that people in technology, finance, and engineering careers have credited with sparking their interest in maths. These include Lego, card games, origami and chess.

More specifically, researchers have found that intuitive number games lead to better maths performance. A study published recently in the journal Cognition involved researchers asking first-graders “to practice tasks that required them to approximate, or roughly evaluate the number of objects in a set without counting them”, explains Science Daily. The children who took part in these estimation challenges scored better on maths tests thereafter. Annie Murphy Paul concludes in an article for Mind Shift that, “This seems like an easy way to engage children in thinking about numbers — just ask kids to estimate how many items are in a pile of paperclips, pennies — or toothpicks.”

If you’re looking for free fun online maths games to entertain and educate, try PBS Kids.

Maths Gesture

Use gestures

Further research on improving maths skills published in Psychological Science shows that using abstract hand gestures helps children solve maths problems. Science magazine explains that “researchers taught a group of third graders to form a V-point gesture with their fingers to signify adding the numbers up, followed by pointing a finger at the blank in the equation to represent inserting the outcome in its place”. Children who used the gesture could then use it to solve similar problems.

Prof Susan Goldin-Meadow, the senior author of the research paper, said in an article on the University of Chicago website: “Our findings provide the first evidence that gesture not only supports learning a task at hand but, more importantly, leads to generalization beyond the task.” So try using gestures next time you help your children with their maths homework.

Get extra help

A maths tutor or extra lessons is a possibility, but why not try Click2Learn’s MathPRO interactive maths revision software, fully based on the current South African Mathematics Curriculum? Designed by EvaluNet, one of South Africa’s top educational software developers, MathPRO will take your children through a step-by-step revision of the key sections of the maths curriculum. It also provides them with practice exercises and they can get immediate feedback to help them understand important concepts. This software is sure to get your kids ready for exams. It is available for Grade 8 to 11 and comes with free printable worksheets.

Encourage your children to work hard at making maths less of a struggle this term and, in the process, you might open up many more study and career opportunities for them.

Photos: Pranav Sankar, US Department of Education, Adam Tinworth, Liz Henry and Goldin-Meadow Lab.